Winter clung to Scotland like a frightened child. The winds howled through the long nights, and snow fell in droves like icy assassins.
Yet time passed, even though the winter seemed to freeze time itself. The dragons could still fly, and the Vikings who had allied with the Scots could still think. Dad as promised went to Frigga's Promise to get the treatment for his arm, though it was painful. When I went to visit, once, his face had become ashen and most of his beard had gone grey.
"And you took it unknowingly." He had waved his reddened arm, showing the patch of skin that had dissolved. "If Jason hadn't been forced to, I'd wring his scrawny neck."
Jason had smiled on hearing this. He had smiled more often on seeing my straighter back and louder voice, and had even clapped his hands when I told him of the new Dragon Academy chapter in Scotland, training the lords' sons, firstborn or not.
"You'd have a tough time doing it, old man. I'm one of the few who can wrestle a Night Fury with my bare hands." He had eyed Toothless with approval.
Astrid had gone with most of the Academy back to Berk, to defend our home from potential invasions and squatters, after spending most of her time in Scotland with me. I hadn't complained, since the Dragon Academy needed a head, but we had started a mail system using hardy Terrible Terrors. She had scared off potential suitors, noble ladies from the other clans who could not match her blade strokes. Merida had snorted on seeing the girls flee.
"Not that you're homely, draugr, but you'd think they'd fight for you."
I didn't need them to fight over me, however, and I hadn't wanted it. I had craved Astrid's wicked laugh as she had cleaned her axe and the way she had run her fingers through my growing hair. If only I could have returned to Berk with her.
Those dragon riders who stayed after the battle with the Outcasts melted snow on the roads, so that traders and farmers could reach their houses safely. These riders included the twins and Thuggory, the twins for the ballads and Thuggory for his desire to learn about politics. We herded yaks and cattle to safety, kept horses in their warm barns and the Scots fed. Not every victory required violence or bloodshed, not when we had to strengthen bonds and heal old wounds.
Come spring, the snow melted without coercion, and animals other than dragons started moving. So did people, including grumpy blacksmiths.
"You're late," Morgan said on one such day. He had shaved off his winter beard and rubbed at a knot in his back. Judging from the lack of odor, he had also bathed to celebrate the first sprigs of grass.
I hurried into the work area, changing into the apron that Elinor had sewn for me. Toothless helped by nudging me along; his large head came in handy for that sort of occasion. My tone remained casual.
"Some diplomats landed early this morning. They rode dragons and carried valuable persons on them. I had to negotiate."
"Oh?" He pretended to not show interest, but his sunken eyes danced with malice. "Must be pretty valuable to avoid the weapons repair, Highness."
I knew as well as Morgan did that we hadn't put our full efforts into weapons repair. On the contrary, he had been teaching me to forge fencing blades, especially a blade that I could wield. It had helped that winter smothered most skirmishes, so that Dunbroch did not require an extensive armory.
"They asked for the royal blacksmith, actually. They are interested in the saddle-work he does for dragons."
He flicked a cleaning cloth at me. I caught it with my left hand and used it to wipe a weapons rack.
"Seriously, they want you to come outside and meet them." I lowered my voice. "As the queen's distant relative, I order you to do so before assigning me weapons to repair."
Morgan raised an eyebrow. Perhaps he sensed the smile hiding behind my solemn face, the eagerness that lay within.
"As you wish, Highness."
Before leaving the smithy, he went to each wall, straightening tools and arranging weapons. The triplets had retrieved the sword handle that the witch had given me, and Morgan had been fitting blades with varying thicknesses into it. I had carved Loki's name onto the wood, to remind myself of his request.
After piling the most recent stack of sketches, Morgan set off. His boots shed flecks of damp mud, remnants of his morning's test. He carried one of his favorite saddles, just in case he found favor, but still took large, clomping steps. I had to walk around his footprints for fear of getting stuck in the thaw. He walked more slowly.
"I lied, actually. They're not diplomats. They're members of the Dragon Academy, returning from a secret mission."
"Then why do you need me?"
"We need you to identify them. Tantrum O'Ugerly found these three, and she arranged for Camicazi of the Bog Burglars to steal them away. Ug the Uglithug, their former master, will never know where they went."
We came to the field designated for dragon landing. Camicazi and Tantrum helped three people dismount, four if counting a swaddled infant that the woman held.
Morgan stopped. The saddle fell to the damp soil. It had a pattern of bears dancing with maidens.
The three figures looked up. Tantrum draped heavy furs around the woman and her baby, fastened the clasp so that they wouldn't catch cold. They caught sight of the petrified blacksmith, mouth agape, his mind fighting against the unwanted joy and hope that he had long smothered with staunch stubbornness.
"Da?" The limping man called; it looked as though someone had broken his right foot and set it improperly. He had icicles in his matted hair, crystals that he brushed away before trying to walk. Camicazi had wrapped him in a fur cloak as well, but we could see how it hung off him as if he were a coat hanger.
"Da!" The woman attempted to rush towards him, only to stagger. Tantrum caught her and spoke soothingly. Svala had her father's hair and nose, but a much stronger accent.
Morgan turned to me, still agape. He tried to ask a question. I nodded.
"They're the first rescues, the first of many. Svala got married and has one baby girl, as you see. Her husband was also a Scot, taken as a boy. We couldn't leave him behind."
He still looked troubled, still questioning with incoherent words.
"Why did I do this for you? Because you may be a grump, but you're still a father, a loving father. And because no one deserves to lose their children."
Svala called again. Morgan's ears perked up, and he looked. Saddle forgotten, he walked forward, hesitantly. Gunther turned towards him as well.
"Go, Morgan. They're real."
He started staggering toward them, an older imitation of his daughter. I will not say that the years fell off him, that he bounded for joy and took his grown-up children in his arms. Grief and bitterness had eaten away at his limbs, and each step cost vital energy. They staggered towards him as well, taking care with their footwork. Svala's husband, whose name was Avery, helped Gunther walk.
I watched them tumble into each other, nearly collapsing onto the tender grass. Morgan uttered a sob that sounded like a hesitant laugh. The baby also started to cry, and Svala had to comfort it with gentle rocking. Gunther leaned on Avery, his face twisted with pain and confusion.
"I've never seen him smile," I told Toothless. "He ought to, more often."
My dragon agreed and lay down. I sat beside him to continue watching the reunion and the lightening sky. Tantrum stayed with them, to offer blankets and furs, while Camicazi shot me a wide-eyed grin. She stuck out her tongue to hide her watery eyes, since Bog Burglars never agreed to be sappy.
This is sunrise. Honorable Vikings sling their nets into the cold seas for cod breakfast and sharpen their axes for mending fences. Scots baled hay for their cattle and horses, sometimes riding them before a warm morning meal.
The sun never stops moving, never gives up in providing warmth and light. I used to find the passage of time a terrible thing, when stuck in muddy turmoil, but I accept the sunlight's perpetual motion as a sign to keep moving. Bad weather will pass, as will bad events. I had survived Frigga's Promise, and I had survived Alvin's attacks on me.
Things no longer happened to me, Hiccup the Dragon Conqueror. I made them happen as Hiccup, Scottish prince and Viking Dragon Trainer. As long as dishonorable souls kept trying to cut me down, I'd remember the sunlight. And I'd keep moving.